Henning: How Tigers shape up now with redesigned roster
Mike Ilitch has made his share of tough calls during 23 years as Tigers owner. But his blessing this week of a baseball team’s makeover might have been his most pivotal. It re-crafted the Tigers for coming seasons.
The Tigers, fundamentally, needed pitching — young, power pitching that would rebuild a starting rotation and at some point help a bloodied bullpen.
With only a couple of days to work ahead of July’s trade deadline, the Tigers freed front-office chief Dave Dombrowski to make two waning-hours deals that fetched five young pitchers in swaps for David Price and Yoenis Cespedes.
Here’s how a Tigers team, built for the past decade on pitchers that helped deliver a string of playoff runs, now shapes up with a reconfigured roster:
Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez now reign as the Tigers’ rotation senior statesmen. Alfredo Simon is still taking his turn, while the top prize from Thursday’s deal with the Blue Jays, left-hander Daniel Norris, gets a chance beginning Sunday to show if he’s ready for regular big-league shifts.
The fifth spot is still vacant, with Buck Farmer temporarily working there, and Shane Greene hoping to re-establish himself as a capable option, if not this summer, then at least by 2016.
The Tigers will be hunting starting pitching this autumn, assuredly. Simon’s contract is expiring and Dombrowski will almost certainly sign an offseason starter from a heavy group of free agents. A seasoned starter will patch a hole and buy time as the Tigers sort out which of this week’s newcomers, beginning with Norris and perhaps including Michael Fulmer or Matt Boyd, might be ready by Opening Day, 2016.
Joakim Soria is gone, which means the Tigers’ back-end bullpen is now officially a quiz show.
Who closes tonight? Who pitches set-up? Who can survive a full inning without assistance?
Alex Wilson, one of the Tigers’ quiet candidates for Most Valuable Pitcher, is probably manager Brad Ausmus’ best choice to close.
Bruce Rondon, who needs a long offseason of winter ball putting his fastball-slider combination in alignment, could — and should — become next year’s closer.
But there’s no assurance Rondon can handle the job, unless he gets in gear during these closing weeks.
Al Alburquerque and Blaine Hardy are steadily effective. Ian Krol, like Rondon, needs to pitch in step with his talent. Angel Nesbitt is finishing his apprenticeship at Triple A Toledo.
Dombrowski’s bullpen has been a headache for much of the past three years. He might have gotten some future help with this week’s deals. He’ll need at least two new relievers, good ones, ahead of 2016.
Dombrowski’s big edge as 2015 shutters is his infield. It’s intact and strong: Jose Iglesias at shortstop, Ian Kinsler at second base, Miguel Cabrera at first, Nick Castellanos at third.
It’s possible the Tigers will at some point trade Kinsler and his heavy contract and move Dixon Machado, a prospect shortstop, to second base.
But the Tigers won’t overly worried about re-designing their infield. Iglesias is an All-Star. Cabera is a superstar healing from a bad leg. Castellanos is hitting and at least handles third base’s basics. Their infield is set for 2016 even if nothing changes.
Cespedes departed Friday for New York and the Tigers only hope they can resume relationships with him in October, once he becomes a free agent. He was a Tigers favorite when he was a prospect in Cuba waiting for a shot at the big leagues, and he remains a favorite even after the Tigers packaged him Friday in a necessary deal for a pair of tender Mets pitchers.
Anthony Gose will be the standby on most days in center field, J.D.Martinez is set in right, which leaves left field. The Tigers have all but said they will attack Cespedes with an open checkbook when he hits free agency in 12 or so weeks.
Tyler Collins will be part of the mix in 2016, at least as today’s roster portends. Rajai Davis is another of those free-agents-to-be the Tigers must replace. But this won’t be regarded as Mission: Impossible by a team that knows outfield help tends to be among baseball’s more plentiful resources.
James McCann will be next year’s everyday starter. Alex Avila will be allowed to pursue his free agency come autumn. Bryan Holaday probably makes the team next year as McCann’s backup. The Tigers like their catching future. McCann will get some Rookie of the Year acknowledgments on various postseason ballots.
The Tigers might find they have an All-Star in the making in the person of their top draft pick from 2011.
Examine it today and it’s a roster begging for extra parts heading into 2016. But that’s why offseasons exist. The Tigers at least got busy this week taking care of basics, taking care of pitching.